Ubud Readers and Writers Festival Founder and Director Janet De Neefe knows the power and beauty of Mount Agung. From the terrace of her famed restaurant, Indus, she has watched Gunung Agung for nineteen years. ‘We respect whatever choice she makes, but we also hope it’s compassionate’, says Janet.
The mountain, which is the highest point in Bali, is a very sacred place. In every Balinese temple a shrine is dedicated to its spirit.
Because of a possible eruption from Mount Agung, an estimated 140,000 people in surrounding areas have been evacuated and moved into makeshift shelters and formerly bustling travel hotspots have been left virtually empty. Festival organisers have looked at all options through their crisis planning and have decided to proceed.
We are doing everything possible to help the displaced villagers,” Janet said this week in an interview with the Guardian newspaper. ‘Ubud won’t be directly affected by the volcano and none of the writers has panicked or threatened to pull out. The Balinese are kind of chilled, like, “Ehh – this could take months”,’ she says. ‘But there’s lots of frantic expats out there.’ The Guardian newspaper has a more in depth look at the current situation.
I love this festival and have been attending as a moderator and interviewer for over a decade. This year I am very pleased to be interviewing Jung Chang the author of Wild Swans, Empress Dowager Cixi, Mao: The Unknown Story.
I am also moderating a wonderful panel of Iranian women writers. Sanaz Fotouhi is Director of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Conference, a writer and filmmaker. Sholeh Wolpé is an award-winning Iranian-born poet, playwright and literary translator and my friend Shokoofeh Azar, is a rising star of Iranian literature, whose first novel has just been published in English. On our panel, we’ll be discussing the magic of diasporic Iranian literature. The writers will contemplate the influence of their ancient Persian heritage and share insights gleaned from working and writing across cultures. I can’t wait to talk to this wonderful group of writers.
The Ubud Readers and Writers Festival was born from tragedy. In 2002, after the Bali bombings, Janet founded the festival to encourage visitors back to the region. It is now regarded as one of the best writers’ festivals in the world, highlighting and promoting Indonesian authors and attracting some of the biggest names in the international literary scene. I always tell people this is the one festival you MUST see sometime.
We are all hoping a rumbling volcano won’t discourage people from attending the 2017 Ubud Readers and Writers Festival.